Fibre artist inspired by nature

By Judith van Berkom –

Nancy Garrard’s inspiration comes from her immediate surroundings. An avid walker, she can be seen, camera in hand, walking the streets of Westboro.

“My real passion is bark. I go around the neighbourhood and take pictures of bark. I went to Africa, travelled with Tembo – a group who works out of Tanzania – and fell in love with the Baobab tree there. My other passion is rocks. I went up to the far north where the rocks are so striking.”

Fibre artist Nancy Garrard is one of the artists who will be showing their work at the Out-of-the-Box Fibre Artist’s Fibre Fling on April 8 and 9. Photo by Judith van Berkom
Fibre artist Nancy Garrard is one of the artists who will be showing their work at the Out-of-the-Box Fibre Artist’s Fibre Fling on April 8 and 9. Photo by Judith van Berkom

Each piece of her work has a story – inspired by interesting markings on a pine tree, lichen on a maple tree just near Hampton Park, the devastation in Hampton Park when so many ash trees were removed. She did a whole series on the Emerald Ash Borer – based on the damage the insect does to the tree.

Nancy’s work as a fibre artist has a peacefulness to it – a natural flow based on years of ‘stitching.’

“I’ve been doing this all my life,” says Nancy. “I did a crazy quilt 25 years ago. [Fibre art in all its forms] is an opportunity to just play but always comes from a love of the stitch. I’ve always loved textiles.”

Throughout her career as a policy analyst with Health Canada, working mainly on seniors and ageing, and as a mother of three, she advanced her talents and interests in fibre arts.

“You don’t have to be rich to appreciate art,” she says.

Westboro has many small galleries. Algonquin College used to bring in fibre artists for five-day classes. The ‘Learn to Draw’ courses offered by the school board and art appreciation series through the National Gallery added to the richness of her work and were a way to “open up your eyes and see art differently.”

Her involvement with Out-of-the-Box Fibre Artists began many years ago at an exhibition in the Mississippi Textile Museum. Here was a group of artists who were pushing the envelope on what you could achieve with textiles. She joined the group seven years ago when she was close to retirement and had the opportunity to explore her own creativity.

“My interest in art becomes more developed the older I get,” says Nancy. “Now I have the luxury of being retired. When I first retired I tried to do a mini art piece every week.”

Her fibre art form is quite diverse. The process starts by taking a whole lot of pictures: a crack in a tree, a birch tree in the pouring rain or the decay of a prickly pear. Using wet felting, she stitches the heck out of it.

Nancy does eco-printing or eco-dyeing on paper or old vintage textiles as well. In eco-printing or dyeing, plants are enclosed in textiles or paper, bundled by winding over rods or stacked in layers and then steamed or immersed in hot water to extract the pigments and produce a print made with plant dyes.

“This is how I spend my time. It’s a joy to come here,” she says, referring to her workspace at home. “I paint, I stitch, I felt. It’s a treasure. You continue to learn. Out-of-the-Box has play dates – it’s like being in kindergarten again.”
Nancy is the liaison between Out-of-the-Box Fibre Artists (the group is celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2017) and Fibre Fling – their fourth annual show at the Kitchissippi United Church taking place April 8 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and April 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Over 40 local artists’ work from Out-of-the-Box will be on display. High tea will be served Saturday afternoon.

Proceeds from the $5 admission and $10 Saturday High Tea will go to the Steven Lewis Foundation, in support of grandmothers in Africa. To date, Fibre Fling has raised $15,000 for the foundation.

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